Hear me Rohr

Posted on: May 17th, 2017 by Wayne Fraser No Comments

Many in the Diocese of Niagara may know Richard Rohr from his book Falling Upward, Bishop Michael’s 2014 selection as his Lenten book. However, you may not be aware that you can receive daily meditations in your email inbox from Rohr. We find these daily readings uplifting and inspiring.

Rohr is a Franciscan monk, founder of the Center for Action and Contemplation in Albuquerque, New Mexico. As our Diocesan website explains, “Drawing from his own Franciscan heritage and other wisdom traditions, Richard Rohr reframes neglected or misunderstood teachings to reveal the foundations of contemplative Christianity and the universe itself: God as loving relationship.” Rohr advocates the meditation tradition of Christianity, what he names the Perennial Tradition, for it is found across all religions.

Through contemplative silence, one enters the presence of Presence, one is able to hear the still small voice of God. Rohr explains, “In a silent posture of self-emptying, we let go of habitual thoughts and sensations and connect with an Inner Witness—God’s presence within—that gazes back at ourselves and out at reality with an Abiding Love.”

Without contemplative practice, Rohr asserts, religion becomes the “repetition of rote, wordy prayers, and attendance at social prayer.” Through regular periods of contemplation, one enjoys an experiential relationship with Divine Presence. True transformation, what John the Baptist called baptism “with fire and the spirit,” and Jesus termed rebirth “from above,” becomes a reality in each human heart and soul.

Without such personal transformation, we are left with defensive barriers against others unlike our own kind, and we focus on “externals and non-essentials.”

Rohr tells the story of Trappist monk Thomas Merton, one of the first in the 1950s and ‘60s to teach the contemplative practice lost over the centuries by the church. “Merton was not very popular with many of the older monks and was considered a rebel because ‘he told [them] that [they] were not contemplatives. [They] were just introverts saying prayers all day’ . . . You can imagine how well that was received.”

Rohr is “convinced that many, many young seekers left seminaries, ministry, religious orders, and convents basically because no one taught them how to pray!  Without a contemplative life, poverty, chastity, obedience, and community itself do not work or even make sense. And ministry becomes another way of running away or trying to find yourself instead of real service for others.”

The Christian contemplative tradition stretches back to the earliest church Fathers and Mothers who in the 4th century fled to the desert “so they could practice what they felt was authentic Christianity, unhindered by the priorities of the new imperial religion that was based largely on externals.”

Your public and your church library will have books on mysticism. Mystics teach us that prayer is not about what we say to God but what we receive from God, Love that enables us to move beyond judging and labeling, Love that enables us to love God, the human race and all of nature.

A reporter once asked Mother Teresa, “When you pray, what do you say?”

She replied, “Nothing; I listen.”

“What do you hear?” asked the reporter.

“Nothing. God listens,” she answered.

The daily meditations Rohr sends out through email seek to teach the contemplative tradition and offer thoughtful analysis of Biblical and Church teachings. It is not a new way of looking at Christianity, but a very old way of experiencing Christ. Jesus taught his disciples to pray. We highly recommend this daily food for thought, action and prayer.  Sign up for free at https://cac.org/sign-up/

 

By Eleanor Johnston and Wayne Fraser, originally published at http://niagaraanglican.ca/newspaper/docs/2017/may.pdf   p.4.

 

 


Visiting Churches: ‘He grows up, doesn’t he?’

Posted on: April 26th, 2017 by Wayne Fraser No Comments

At the start of another church service where our role was to babysit while the parents were guest musicians, our four-year old granddaughter was somewhat distressed to be hearing, once again, “Once in Royal David’s City.” She rose from her seat at the “kids zone,” walked tentatively toward us and asked in a worried voice: “He grows up, doesn’t he?” We were amazed to be asked this by such a young child, but relieved that our one-word assurance was accepted so readily.

We all grow in wisdom and stature, don’t we? Asking questions is what we’re doing a lot of these days. Since last summer we have visited a number of churches from Niagara to Toronto, primarily Anglican, but also a couple of United Churches. We are not commissioned to be “the inspector,” as one person worriedly assumed. We are sincerely looking to see what’s out there and how others are worshipping. We’ve looked at services from small, early morning ones to big churches, from urban to rural, from regular Sunday services to weekday Taizé. Here’s some of what we found.

First, every church welcomed us warmly as we arrived and included us in exchanging the Peace. The most effective greeting for Eleanor, a relatively shy person, occurred when we arrived at a church and the warden on duty whisked Wayne away to the priest’s office to prepare for the service. Eleanor was “adopted” by another warden who asked her whether she wanted to sit near the front, the middle or the back. The warden escorted her to that pew and explained who was who, when to stand/sit/kneel and when to use green book, hymnal and bulletin. She remained by her side until she was settled at the coffee hour, coffee and cookie in hand, in conversation with others.

Most parishioners are truly proud of their church and its identity and areas of expertise, from liturgy to outreach. The priest is glad to welcome a fellow-priest. Worship in every church was done thoughtfully and prayerfully, effectively creating a spiritual atmosphere and experience.

Our primary observation is that, to many Anglican churches, “contemporary liturgy” means the Eucharistic service starting on page 185 in the BAS. Certainly it is more modern than that found on page 230, based as it is on the BCP. However, to be contemporary, of the 21st century, means to reflect that we live in a wholly different landscape with a different understanding of what’s happening in our world and in the universe than is reflected in either BAS or BCP.

Some churches, we discovered, offer, with the Bishop’s permission, liturgy created in the here and now, written by clergy and a worship team. They pray for guidance as they incorporate new ideas and language from a variety of sources, including the internet, rituals of other faiths and other wisdoms, both ecumenical and interfaith. No BAS or BCP in sight; the service is fully printed in a bulletin or flashed on a screen.

Nor is the pipe organ the dominant instrument. Churches use a variety of music—piano, keyboard, guitar, bands, hymns, gospel songs, and pop songs. Old words with new tunes and new words with old tunes take the place of familiar prayers and rituals. When it comes to changing ideas, expressing them in song seems the best vehicle.

Yes, He grows up and so do we. “Life-changing worship” is happening in a few churches exploring a “culture of innovation” in liturgy. Maybe what scared our granddaughter were the words, “Christian children all should be kind, obedient, good as he.”

by Eleanor Johnston and Wayne Fraser

First published, http://niagaraanglican.ca/newspaper/docs/2017/apr.pdf  (p. 9)


Change or Atrophy—Today’s Choice

Posted on: January 27th, 2017 by Wayne Fraser No Comments

Having questioned the Creeds in the October issue of Niagara Anglican, we thought we would follow up with what we believe. We worship God who created all things, follow Jesus who is our teacher, healer and friend, and hear the Holy Spirit who communicates all we need to know and do.

There are many ways of understanding, worshipping and serving. Wherever we are on the theological spectrum, we all need the courage, theological understanding and common sense necessary to tackle the great and inevitable changes and challenges facing our religious institutions today.

The concept of Original Sin is the key to obsolete beliefs including propitiatory sacrifice and substitutionary atonement. Likewise, to blame afflicted people for their personal torments is presumptuous in the extreme. God did not create us evil and prone to diseases as punishment for our fallen state. Humanity is not fallen.

Original Sin is not a concept even mentioned in the Bible. Original Blessing, its opposite, is, yet we allow ourselves to be “guilted” about Jesus dying for our sins. Instead, we see the Bible’s claim that God created the human race, all other species, our habitats and “saw that they were very good.”

The God we worship and serve is not an old man living above the clouds. We can call ourselves “a-theists,” people who do not worship a human-like, a human-made God. Many who have left church have done so because of the traditional image of God. Non-theism for most of us still attending church, is uncharted territory, a new theological creation. Who or what do we worship?

We must start with a humble reading of the New Testament, with the brilliant hope, peace, joy and love put before us by Jesus. We experience God as an evolving Ground of Being, and the key word is evolution. Here’s where the most radical concept comes in: God is Love, is giving and receiving. God plunges into the breakdown of humanity’s connection to creation as Love in our loving.

We seek the wisdom and faith to explore our human understandings of God, for kindred spirits of other world religions, and for this fragile earth, our island home. We see the destruction of the ecosystems and the mass extinctions of fellow creatures as crimes against God and all creation. We believe in caring for all species of creatures and their habitats. We welcome interfaith peace and inclusive justice for all.

A new era of Christianity is here and now but many are afraid to acknowledge it. It is here in our ecumenical and interfaith worship. We must give up our fantasy that Christianity is superior to other religions. People of all faiths have in common an evolving experience of the Divine.

True worship does not care a whit for the forms of our rituals. God gives no one the right to be militant. Jesus commands us to love God, our neighbours and ourselves. Change is difficult, in anything we do. It seems especially challenging in matters of faith.

We must, however, change or atrophy. Instead of condoning all the fears, threats and guilt induced in the past, let us rejoice in the complexity, beauty and mystery of all creation. All people come from God, we are imitators of Emmanuel, and we are co-workers with the Holy Spirit.

For the beauty of the Earth,
sing oh sing today.
Of the sky and of our birth,
sing oh sing today.
Nature human and divine,
all around us lies.
Lord of all, to thee we raise
grateful hymns of praise.

–Paul Winter, Missa Gaia

First published, http://niagaraanglican.ca/newspaper/docs/2017/feb.pdf  (page 6)

 


The Creed’s Credibility

Posted on: December 27th, 2016 by Eleanor Johnston No Comments

In each of the six Niagara churches where we have worshipped, Wayne as interim priest and Eleanor as chorister, a few parishioners have expressed their difficulties with the content of the Nicene Creed.

Picture this: a diligent, positive parishioner asks to see Wayne and sets a time and date. When he arrives, he closes the door, locks it, takes a seat and confesses: “I feel guilty for doubting the Nicene Creed.”

What a relief! He isn’t suffering from cancer or about to lose his job. Theology? Let’s talk. First of all, however, he needs to be heard: “The Creed is not even in the Bible. It’s all about levels of power. This isn’t what Jesus is all about. The word love isn’t even in the creed! And God doesn’t sit on the clouds, for heaven’s sake! Most of what I believe is reflected in the hymns and the sermons, but I have to tune out when we get to the Creed. I can say about half the words. What’s wrong with me? Am I still a Christian?”

The first response must affirm his doubting faith. Jesus helped Thomas when he experienced doubt. Questioning faith is an opportunity for growth in faith. Freaking out at doubters is singularly unhelpful. We, too, are uncomfortable reciting the Nicene Creed every Sunday. ‘Uncomfortable?’ That’s an understatement.

An active lay person in another parish told how, in a conversation with the priest and his assistant, she had expressed similar doubts. Both men harangued her and insisted that until she took a Bishop’s Diploma Course and reconsidered her faith, she could no longer function as lay reader. When two ordained men gang up on a single lay woman, forcefully telling her that she must believe every word of the Creed to be a Christian, that is bullying—at such a moment, the Creed loses its credibility.

Why is the weekly repetition of the Nicene Creed so important? The ritual must have some meaning for parishioners, and we get that. The difficulty arises with those who are inflexible, who insist that it must be spoken at every Eucharist. Alternate creeds like the Apostles Creed or the ancient Shema are deemed second-rate. And Heaven help us if an experimental liturgy uses contemporary language to reflect today’s spirituality!

After all, the Nicene Creed was commissioned by the Emperor Constantine in 325CE. Imagine Jesus and his followers composing something similar for the Caesars in their lifetimes. Surely Jesus’ teachings as found in the Bible are more spiritual, more profound, than a Roman Emperor’s plans to make Christianity the state religion. This elevated status undermined the radical theology of Jesus which challenged Rome’s violent suppression of its conquered people.

There’s just so much old science reflected in the Creed that does not jive with what we know today about the universe. The ancient concept of a three-tiered world, to begin with. And a flat earth.

The Nicene Creed teaches us to believe in “one holy, catholic and apostolic Church.” Is that in the Bible? No. What good does it do? It does not make much difference to most people’s lives. If we are still considering the role of the Nicene Creed in the Christian church after 1700 years, still fretting about ideologies, we have missed the point.

It’s more important to be like Jesus than to repeat words about Jesus. Faith is not recitation of words but living the Word, following the Way of Jesus. Instead of reciting a creed, we should be helping, praying, learning, teaching and curing in Jesus’ name. Jesus did not tell us to believe in concepts but to trust in Him, in the Father, in the way of the Kingdom.

by Eleanor Johnston and Wayne Fraser

first published, October 2016, http://niagaraanglican.ca/newspaper/docs/2016/oct.pdf


The lost correspondence of Malcolm Cowley and Ernest Hemingway

Posted on: July 23rd, 2016 by Wayne Fraser 3 Comments

I just returned from attending the 17th Biennial International Hemingway conference, held this time in Chicago. I had the privilege of presenting the attached paper about the relationship between writer and critic Malcolm Cowley and Ernest Hemingway.  Hem_Cow presentation


A review from Vienna on Amazon

Posted on: November 15th, 2015 by Eleanor Johnston 1 Comment

Churchland is a book to curl up on the couch and read when you feel good. Characters are portrayed that are people we all know in our daily lives; Eleanor Johnston has created a story we can all imagine ourselves living.
This is a story that presents great characters, great conversations, lovely word painting of the southern Ontario region of Jordan in the snow storm and lovely portrayals of the relationships between sisters, children and parents, between colleagues and between friends.
Marcia’s lesson of having to listen and be compassionate with everyone and how necessary it is to take the time to do that is a lesson we have all had to learn in our lives.

Another feel-good aspect was reading about the enjoyment of sharing meals together… blueberry pancake breakfasts, spontaneous evening meals, and raising glasses with friends.
Here is raising a glass to Churchland!


“All is forgiven” First, the good news

Posted on: January 15th, 2015 by Eleanor Johnston No Comments

re The Globe and Mail Thurs Jan 15

The Good News—”All is forgiven”

On Wednesday January 14, a week after the terrorist attack on the headquarters of the atheist satirical magazine, Charlie Hebdo, the surviving workers of this magazine published their first issue. On the front cover is a cartoon of the weeping prophet Mohammed holding a sign saying “Je suis Charlie” (“I am Charlie”) under a headline proclaiming “Tout est pardonne,” (“All is forgiven.”)

What was the reaction to this profound gesture? My eyes filled with tears of joy and pity that this satirical victim of a horrible attack would respond with spiritual grace, reaching out to all, forgiving all. It could have been Jesus (Je suis) forgiving the attackers, speaking from the cross, identifying with “Charlie,” the victimized magazine. By publishing another drawing of Mohammed, the magazine bravely asserted its right to free speech. But it showed Mohammed grieving for both atheists such as the magazine Charlie and the murderous wrong of his followers’ attack.

I expected and hoped that “The National” would lead with this good news last night, but it didn’t. Instead we had the usual pessimistic violence.

I expected and hoped that “The Globe and Mail” would lead with this good news this morning. I had to look for it in the online edition. The Pope was to be seen urging “Muslim leaders to  condemn religious-based violence.” Good for him!

The magazine’s lawyer is quoted saying that the magazine “will include other cartoons featuring the Prophet Mohammed and also making fun of  politicians and other religions.” Really, that cover was just a joke???

That depends on whether we see goodness in this world, or only evil. “For the past week, Charlie, an atheist newspaper, has achieved more miracles than all the saints and prophets combined,” reads the lead editorial in the new issue.


“I believe in the Cuban people’s cause”: Hemingway’s Politics in Yuri Paporov’s Hemingway en Cuba

Posted on: August 12th, 2014 by Wayne Fraser 2 Comments

During the 1950s Ernest Hemingway became increasingly fearful about suspected surveillance by the FBI & IRS, his suspicions contributing to his depression and eventual suicide. No one believed him at the time, not even his last wife, Mary, but Hemingway was constantly vigilant. The FBI files on him are astounding. In August 1947, for example, agent L.B. Nichols reported that “one of the real danger spots in Cuba was centered around Ernest Hemingway.” “We ought to try and keep close to this development,” reads Hoover’s hand-written comment on one confidential memorandum about Hemingway. Hoover’s agents tracked Hemingway’s activities for decades, even conferring with the doctors at the Mayo clinic about their “problem” patient. Even imaginary fears, it turns out, can be based in reality. During the twenty years Hemingway lived in Cuba, he was watched by FBI agents reporting directly to Hoover. At the same time, America’s most famous author was friends with the American ambassador, who approved Hemingway’s vigil against German U-boats threatening Havana’s harbour during WWII. There are, moreover, reports of Hemingway in the late 1950s supporting the Castro revolution. What were his relations with the US government? With the Cuban governments of Batista and then of Castro’s political revolution?

One unexplored source of information about this topic is Kheminguei na Kube by Russian writer Yuri Paporov. In the late-1960s, early 1970s, Paporov, working in Cuba, interviewed everyone he could find who had known Hemingway. Published in the Soviet Union in 1979 in Russian, these interviews were translated into Spanish in 1993 as Hemingway en Cuba. Twenty years later, this relevant resource has not yet been published in English. Because it has not been made accessible to the great majority of Hemingway scholars, mostly unilingual in English, the book is not widely known. One wonders if Paporov’s book is deliberately being ignored or has fallen victim to the Hoover habit of suppressing anything Communist.

James D. Brasch, co-author of Hemingway’s Library, has made a compelling case for the translation of Paporov’s book in his That Other Hemingway: The Master Inventor (2009). With the help of a colleague who translated one chapter from Paporov’s original Russian edition, Brasch presents the perspective of Hemingway’s longtime friend and doctor in Cuba, Jose Luis Herrera. Hemingway had met Herrera in Spain during the civil war, and Herrera had been exiled to Cuba by the Spanish government after the war. Herrera discusses Hemingway’s health and marital conflicts, and also describes at length Hemingway’s “attitude toward the Cuban revolution.” Herrera “reported that, until he died, Hemingway supported both the Spanish Communist Party and the Communist party in Guanabacoa, the capital of the municipio [township] in which [Finca Vigia, Hemingway’s home in] San Francisco de Paula is located.” Brasch provides a tantalizing glimpse into the opinions and information available from Paporov’s research and concludes that “Hemingway’s views on Dr. Castro and the revolution were obviously not comfortable or popular during the cold war antagonism of 1959.” Brasch’s That Other Hemingway was self-published in 2009, so perhaps his discoveries are not widely known.

Paporov’s book provides the views of many eyewitnesses of Hemingway’s political opinions and involvement. Paporov writes, “In relation to Hemingway’s support of the initial faith in the Cuban Revolution we have to consider [for example] the testimonies of [Hemingway’s sometime secretary] Roberto Herrera, the chief Editor of El Mundo, Luis Gomez Vanguemert, [artist’s model] Sara Cheméndez and [journalist] Mario Cuchilán.” (p. 392) After 5 pm, “Papa” frequently visited “El Hoyo” Bar, alone or in the company of his new secretary Valery Smith. He invited people he considered interesting to discuss politics with him. One day he was coming out of the Art Museum when he saw the newspaper headlines stating the victory of the army against the “barbudos”—the bearded men. Hemingway became very angry and said that those were all a bunch of lies. Hemingway further claimed that Batista thought announcing victory in the papers would help him get rid of Castro and his followers. Vanguemert gives a further example of Hemingway’s support of the rebels when at another art exhibition Hemingway expressed his disbelief in the rumour that Fidel Castro had been killed by the army. Hemingway yelled that those were lies published by the newspapers that supported Batista, and that they would not be able to kill Fidel: “They [the revolutionaries] would win no matter what,” declared Hemingway. He financially assisted a revolutionary newspaper in support of the communist cause in Cuba, as expressed by some journalists who came to ask “Papa” for money. Hemingway did not expect or receive any explanation of what the money would be used for.

Paporov incorporated into his book an interview with Hemingway from Nov. 1959 by Seattle-based journalist Emmett Watson. Watson quoted Hemingway at length, but a few of his words are the source of my title: “Castro’s movement awakes great hope. I believe in the Cuban people’s cause. . . . I pronounce myself in favour of the Castro revolution, because it has the support of the people. I believe in its cause.” (p. 397) There is great confusion, even doubt, about the existence of this interview. Paporov reported that Castro himself quoted Watson’s interview on Cuban television, while Herrera maintained it was published on the front page of a local newspaper in Idaho. Brasch includes the entire quotation in his book in order “to invite further information on its origin, its authenticity, and its exact contents,” and he concludes, “the possibility that it is a fabrication must be entertained” (p. 128). However, a Google search in January 2014 found evidence of the interview’s existence: the Milwaukee Sentinel of March 11, 1959 published Watson’s “Sun Valley Interview” with Hemingway and much of the wording echoes the language of the passage quoted by Paporov and translated in Brasch. Furthermore, Herrara claimed that Hemingway recorded his views for a local radio station, but “it was suppressed and no paper in the U.S. reproduced the article.” Herrara might have been mistaken, for on January 23, 1959, page one of the Eugene [Oregon] Register-General prominently displayed an article, “Hemingway Defends Cuban Trials,” based on a telephone interview with the writer. Hemingway’s support of the Castro revolution, his political activity while in Cuba, may indeed have been muted in the American press, as Herrara maintained, out of embarrassment or fear or politics, but there is evidence that Hemingway’s views were in the news.

Paporov’s Hemingway en Cuba is not all hero-worship of Hemingway nor entirely a discussion of politics. The book also presents differing portraits of Hemingway’s relationship with Cuban art and artists. The Cuban journalist Edmundo Desnoes expressed in the Mexican magazine, Siempre, that “Fidel Castro was extremely magnanimous when he declared that ‘all of Hemingway’s writings supported human rights’: [Hemingway] lived in Cuba as a retired Englishman in one of its colonies, sympathizing with the Cuban people but looking down on them from La [Finca] Vigía.” (p. 404) Desnoes criticized Hemingway for writing in English and publishing his books in the USA, dismissing him as “just a wealthy traveler, who stayed in the most elegant hotels and drank expensive champagne with black beluga caviar.” In contrast, writer Julio Travieso remembered when he visited Hemingway’s home in the year of the Revolution (1959) and liked his “simplicity and practicality, without any superficial luxuries.” Travieso mentioned that many thought, out of arrogance and contempt, Hemingway rarely had any contact with Cuban writers, but Travieso did not agree with this view. He believed that Cuban writers at that time were “scarce with scant production.” Therefore, why would Hemingway know them? “It is not surprising at all that he would not know the Cuban writers of the pre-revolutionary period.” Furthermore, Travieso believed that “Hemingway did not like to have frequent interaction with American writers and intelligentsia … [this was] the attitude of a cultivated man that neither loved intellectuals nor led an intellectual life.” (p. 416) On the contrary, Paporov’s collection of interviews with so many of Hemingway’s contemporaries and colleagues portrays Hemingway politically and intellectually engaged in lively discussion with the issues and the people of his time and place.

There is much to be discovered in Paporov’s book which then needs to be corroborated by comparison and cross-reference to other material. For example, Norberto Fuentes has published Hemingway in Cuba and Ernest Hemingway: Rediscovered, both readily available from the outset in English. Fuentes’s Hemingway in Cuba, translated from Spanish in 1984, has been criticized by biographer Jeffery Meyers, yet praised by Allie Baker of The Hemingway Project. There are certainly inaccuracies in both books, but the relevant point is that Paporov needs to be translated like Fuentes in order to receive both blame and praise, in order for us to discover the true gen. It was exciting to see, in the Fall 2013 issue of The Hemingway Review, Jeffrey Herlihy-Mera quoting both Fuentes and Paporov in the same sentence in his exploration of the connotations of Cuban dialect for understanding Hemingway’s relationship with the art and people of that island nation. The article highlights the limitations placed on scholarly use of Paporov without a solid grasp of Russian or Spanish.

Walter Houk, a diplomat at the US embassy in Havana from 1949 to 1952 whose wedding reception was hosted by Hemingway at Finca Vigia, stated in a recent interview in the Boston Globe, “The Cuban years are not well known because the great biographers didn’t go there.” (Boston Globe, May 4, 2013) Mary Hemingway arranged for Carlos Baker to visit the Finca after Hemingway’s death, not once but twice, but Baker cancelled both times at the last minute. One wonders why he did so. Brasch’s theory is that Charles Scribner, on the board of Princeton at the time, suggested support of Hemingway’s life and interest in Cuba would be in poor taste given the politics of the times. Canadians, in contrast, have enjoyed a relatively open relationship with Cuba, in great part because of the influence of former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau who developed a friendship with Castro, went to Cuba on an official state visit with his wife, who especially was admired by Castro, and their infant son, and later returned on private visits. Castro attended Trudeau’s funeral in 2000, sat alongside former President Carter, and consoled the family, notably Trudeau’s son Justin, current leader of the Liberal Party of Canada and possibly the next Prime Minister. Being Canadian allowed Brasch and Sigman to gain Mary Hemingway’s support to visit the Finca to catalogue the library; she wrote a letter directly to Castro asking for his permission, which he granted.

Are past and current American politics barring access to valuable information? So many of the FBI files on Hemingway are redacted to this day. Norberto Fuentes, once a friend of Castro, fled Cuba and resides now in the USA and has published anti-Castro articles and books. Perhaps both factors contribute to his successful publication in English. In contrast, Paporov was a citizen of the Soviet Union, a former KGB agent, a biographer of Trotsky, and to my knowledge he is a resident of Russia today. Paporov doesn’t have the American connections Fuentes has or the political correctness acceptable to Americans. Does the Cold War fear of the USSR, of Communism, lurk and hover over Paporov and his book? Cuban-American relations today do seem to be improving. Barack Obama significantly shook hands with Raul Castro at Nelson Mandela’s memorial service. Current co-operative ventures between the Finca Vigia Foundation and Cuban colleagues with regard to preserving and restoring Hemingway’s home, his library and his papers are encouraging, but publication of Paporov, with its reminders of past political animosities, might cause embarrassment and upset these fledgling joint undertakings.

Politics, past or current, should not hinder the free exploration of literature and ideas, but alas, it happens everywhere. Consider the publication history of Charles Yale Harrison’s Generals Die in Bed (1930): it was criticized for presenting an unflattering picture of Canadian troops in WWI, and the novel was ignored until its re-publication in 1970. The title was briefly parodied in Hemingway’s story “The Natural History of the Dead.” Consider also the fate of Alexander Solzhenitsyn who wrote Prussian Nights, a long poem describing the Russian rape and slaughter of East Prussians in January 1945 which he witnessed as a captain in the Soviet Red Army. He was banished to the Soviet gulag for years. “Politics,” says Canadian author Margaret Atwood, “is everything that involves who gets to do what to whom. . . And politics also has to do with what kind of conversations you have with people, and what you feel free to say to someone, what you don’t feel free to say.” Do we have the freedom today to reveal and study the politics of Hemingway during his long tenure in Cuba?

Such intriguing political questions were the motivation and background when my wife, Dr. Eleanor Johnston, and I created a novel about Hemingway’s last days in Cuba, Hemingway’s Island, to our knowledge the only fictional treatment of Hemingway’s politics in Cuba. Our young narrator, a Canadian Doctoral candidate in American Literature, explains to his friends in Cuba all about Paporov’s book and his desire to see it translated: “I have this goal to get it published in English because then it will be easier to use Paporov’s ideas in my thesis. Imagine, a book written by a Russian about Hemingway in 1950’s Cuba! It’s my silver mine.” Our narrator is wrong: Paporov’s Hemingway in Cuba would be a gold mine for us all!


Hemingway’s Island: the podcast

Posted on: May 12th, 2014 by Wayne Fraser No Comments

We have created a podcast of our novel, Hemingway’s Island, first published in 2012. The book begins with Mary Hemingway in July 1960 writing an article for Life magazine about her last days in Cuba with husband Ernest Hemingway. Chapters alternate between Mary’s article and the adventures of Alf O’Malley, University of Toronto graduate student, fifty years later as he travels to Cuba with his pregnant girlfriend Beth to search for Mary Hemingway’s long-lost article.

You can connect to the link above by passing your cursor over the title, and listen to each episode in sequence, or download each podcast to your own device.

Hope you enjoy our reading.

Wayne & Eleanor


Surveillance at the Finca: Further Implications of Brasch & Sigman’s Hemingway’s Library

Posted on: April 15th, 2014 by Wayne Fraser 1 Comment

With a simple Google search, one can quickly establish the contribution to Hemingway scholarship of James D. Brasch & Joseph Sigman’s Hemingway’s Library: The Composite Record (Garland, 1981). Hundreds of hits appear, mostly bibliographical, indicating that any exploration of Hemingway’s writing requires reference to the books Hemingway read and hence to Brasch and Sigman’s bibliography. This manuscript is now available online, thanks to the generosity of its authors and the efforts of The John F. Kennedy Library.

Few people know, however, the story behind the creation of this valuable resource. As a student of Brasch & Sigman in the late 60s and again at the Graduate level in 1974-75, I was in on the story from its inception and have heard, over the intervening years, Jim Brasch recount the details of their adventure. Brasch has emphasized the complications and the levels of bureaucratic obfuscation the two men encountered. In this short article, I will share a few of these backstories which lead to intriguing speculations about the state of the library at the Finca Vigia and suggest avenues for research into the influence of Hemingway’s reading on the development of his craft.

In 1971, Emily Watts’ book, Ernest Hemingway and the Arts, raised awareness of and interest in the influence of painters, particularly Cezanne, on Hemingway’s writing. Michael Reynolds’ early explorations (1976 & 1980) offered excellent insights into the influence of Hemingway’s reading on his writing, but Reynolds never had access to Hemingway’s actual books. Furthermore, the many descriptions of Hemingway’s early years in Paris rarely explored the rich poetic milieu in which his artistic talents developed. A recent documentary, “Paris: The Luminous Years” by Perry Miller Adato, shown on PBS, illustrates the Paris of Hemingway’s time dominated by poets including Appollinaire, Eliot, Joyce, and Pound. How would the works of such poets have affected the young Hemingway’s writing? Woody Allen’s recent “Midnight in Paris” humorously but accurately highlights the rich mix of artistic influences in Paris of the 1920s. Hemingway’s library at the Finca Vigia reflects so much of this artistic development that an exploration of what Hemingway read, in the context of these recent insights and influences, could well shift the focus of Hemingway scholarship from increasingly minute details of Hemingway biography to deeper insight into the development of his craft.

The Library adventure had its origin in 1976, when Brasch & Sigman attended the Hemingway conference in Alabama. During the question and answer period after Mary Hemingway’s lively talk on the literary men in her life, cleverly omitting any mention of Hemingway, she referred to Hemingway reading the poems of Baudelaire to her at bedtime. Mary also commented that she and her husband always travelled with a huge bundle of books. She then referred to their extensive library still at the Finca and remarked that it was a shame that scholars did not explore the influence of Hemingway’s reading on his writing. Those hints by Mary suggested that Hemingway’s devotion to books was the aspect most seriously ignored by their biographers.

Brasch and Sigman spoke with Mary after the question period, pointing out that they were Canadians and therefore not prohibited from visiting Cuba as were the American scholars at the conference. The two Canadians asked if she would approve their admission to the Finca Vigia. Mary probably had her own agenda, yet nevertheless agreed on the spot to support their visit and promised to write a letter to Fidel Castro asking permission for them to catalogue the library. Neither Mary nor the two academics knew at the time that Castro had a sincere affection for Canada developed through his close friendship with Pierre and Margaret Trudeau and was most likely to give his permission. Castro’s little recognized admiration for Canada has recently been examined and recorded by Professor Robert Wright in his Three Nights in Havana, a book endorsed by James Hyndeman, the Canadian ambassador to Cuba in the 1970s who co-incidentally handed Mary Hemingway’s letter of request to Fidel Castro.

Castro’s permission secured, Brasch & Sigman arranged to visit the Finca on three consecutive days in early January 1977. During their inspection of the Finca library, many frustrating disruptions occurred. Their access to the house and its rooms changed, for on the first day they were free to roam unobserved just about anywhere, but on the second day they were watched closely, and passage to the basement of the main house, while open when they arrived, was now barred by step-ladders. One door off Hemingway’s bedroom remained sealed during their entire visit, while Mary’s bedroom was closed to them for renovations. The storage area of the adjoining guesthouse was completely forbidden to them. One of the Finca’s gardeners with dirt and grass still on his shoes was formally presented as the head curator of the property. Most frustrating, in retrospect, on that first day inside the Finca, Brasch had ventured half way down the basement stairs, but was driven back by the darkness he encountered. We all know now of the valuable stash of Hemingway letters and papers in that basement area; Brasch could have unearthed them on that January day in 1977.

Other incidents convinced Brasch and Sigman that they were distrusted by Cuban officials and were under close surveillance during their time in Cuba. They suspected this upon their first meeting with the Cubans who had agreed to take them to the Finca at 9am but did not show up until 4pm. Frustrated by the precious time lost, that evening Brasch and Sigman encouraged each other by recalling what Mary had told them about Hemingway reading Baudelaire to her. The next morning Brasch mentioned to Marta Arjona, director of the Finca museum at the time, that Mary’s statement about Baudelaire had sparked their interest in studying Hemingway’s books. Without taking a breath Ms Arjona said there were three copies of Baudelaire in the collection and pointed out where they were. The two academics were convinced by her ready response that she must have been aware of their conversation in the hotel room the evening before. In order to test the security of their hotel room, Brasch and Sigman arranged the contents of their luggage in such a way that they could tell upon return to their room, that their bags were searched daily. Since they were convinced that their room was both bugged and searched, they spent many hours comparing notes and developing plans while seated on an isolated stretch of Marazul beach. Even there they were constantly followed. As well, they were often approached by Cubans asking them to purchase electronic and other goods at the government stores which are for tourists only, but they refused, not wanting to jeopardize their mission in any way. Finally, museum staff prevented them from visiting the Finca on the third day to catalogue the record collection. The delays and cancellations and surveillance greatly hampered their efforts to catalogue the Finca library.

One of the most disturbing incidents took place in the Havana airport as Brasch and Sigman prepared to return to Canada. Brasch had arranged his hand luggage so he could take advantage of prepackaged parcels of duty-free rum at the airport. When he tried to slip the rum into his carry-on, he discovered there was no room. In the space he had reserved for the rum he found a large sophisticated East German Leica camera, apparently inserted during an incident of “loss” of the luggage on the way to the airport. Fearing close scrutiny by airport security at that time dominated by Russians, Brasch threw the camera to an empty corner of the waiting area. He admits he wasn’t thinking clearly, so shaken was he by the discovery after days of relentless scrutiny; whether the camera had been placed in his luggage purposely or accidentally, Brasch just wanted the camera away from him as quickly as possible. His luggage was then cleared through customs.

Several days after returning home he called a former student who worked for a travel agency, and she discovered that the camera was in the lost and found at Toronto’s Pearson airport. No one knew how it got there, but she was able to arrange for Brasch to retrieve the camera. He finished the roll of film already in the camera and had it developed. The few pictures from Cuba were of groups of people standing rather formally at what appeared to be a gallery exhibition. Brasch deduced from the photos that the camera belonged to Marta Arjona, and he mailed copies of these pictures to her, explaining how he came to be in possession of the pictures and the camera, and offering to return the camera on his next visit to Cuba. Several months later he received a letter from Arjona, on plain lined paper, in a small handwritten script, thanking him for returning the pictures; the tone of the brief note made it clear that Brasch and Sigman would not be invited to return to the Finca. Brasch still has the camera and the letter.

Another disturbing incident occurred just after their return from Cuba; sitting in Brasch’s office at McMaster University, the two men disagreed on a small detail about the holdings in the library. To settle the matter, they decided to consult the 1200-page list of books, prepared by Cuban staff at the Finca library in 1966 for display at Expo ’67 in Montreal, a microfilmed copy of which had reached them through a German contact–another intriguing story, but not relevant to this one. This list, which Brasch and Sigman had taken with them to Cuba, was sitting in a cardboard box in the office. When Brasch opened the box, he found blank pages staring at him, 1200 blank pages. The implications hit Brasch and Sigman so compellingly that they sat in stunned silence for the better part of half an hour. The disappearance of the list—fortunately a copy of the original microfilm they had been given–made them realize how much they had been watched and tracked. An entire litany of incidents occurred to them, all pointing to the same conclusion: they had been constantly spied on, their hotel rooms bugged, their luggage searched. The reason behind the brief disappearance of their bags on the way to the airport was now apparent: someone stole the library list and substituted 1200 blank pages. During the process of this exchange, or while searching the luggage for possible theft from the Finca, someone, either inadvertently or purposely, must have placed Arjona’s camera into Brasch’s bag. It was clear that the Cubans had not trusted these two scholars and had been constantly monitoring, even frustrating, their research of Hemingway’s library.

Some bibliographical anomalies, however, have emerged from their exploration of the Finca library. The Composite Record of Hemingway’s Library prepared by Brasch and Sigman includes three rather curious texts. What interest would Hemingway have had in the following volumes?

Antonio Foresti, Mappamondo istorico, 13 volumes, published in Venice by Girolamo Albrizzi in 1695.

Pasqual Ramon Gutierrez de la Hacera, Descripcion general de la Europa, y particular de sus estados, ye cortes, especialmente de Espana, y Madrid antiquo y moderno, published in Madrid by Doblad in 1771.

Relatione della corte di Roma, published in Venice by Brigenci in 1664.

How do these books fit into any understanding of Hemingway’s creative process?

For example, all thirteen volumes of the Foresti were moved by Toby Bruce from Hemingway’s home in Key West to the Finca in the late 1930s. Why would Hemingway go to such lengths to hang on to them? Where did he get them? What possible use could Hemingway have had with such texts? Moreover, how have they survived the blistering heat and humidity of the Cuban climate? Indeed, are they still in the collection at the Finca Vigia? The list of the library’s holdings made by the Cuban staff indicates that these books were part of the collection in 1966.

Brasch and Sigman’s visit to the Finca in 1977 could not confirm that these books were still there, although Brasch made every effort to examine every old book he could see, for they were concerned about damage from dampness and bookworms. Originally, Brasch and Sigman had hoped to return to Cuba at a later date to film each and every book’s title page; consequently, during their first and ultimately only time there, they chose to read the titles of the first, middle and end books on each shelf, to compare their findings to the 1966 shelf list when they got back to McMaster. Brasch also photographed all the bookshelves, but the quality of the slides does not allow for close reading of the titles of texts. Where are those ancient tomes?

These ancient volumes lead to a number of questions about the present integrity of the library and about Hemingway’s craft. The project announced in 2002 to photograph Hemingway’s marginalia—a task Brasch and Sigman tried to arrange but refused by Marta Arjona–will perhaps shed some light on how Hemingway used these mysterious texts. Ernest Hemingway often initialed his comments in the margins of books. Such a survey could compare the inventory of the Finca library as it is today against Brasch and Sigman’s Composite Record or against the list made by the Cubans in 1966, to see if all the volumes are still there. If Adrian McKinty is giving us the true gen in his 2008 Times article, “Any book in Hemingway’s Library for $200,” there exists the real possibility that books have disappeared from the Finca. The possible toll of the Cuban climate is furthermore problematic. The lack of co-operation of Marta Arjona as experienced by Brasch and Sigman, and clearly documented by Rene Villarreal in his recent memoir, The Cuban Son, raises serious questions about the integrity and maintenance of the library. Hopefully, however, a close examination of the Finca library might reveal that these valuable ancient books were safely removed long ago to the excellent facilities at the Jose Marti Library.

The adventure of Brasch and Sigman in their pursuit of the books owned by Ernest Hemingway emphasizes the necessity for haste in preserving the Finca library. Scholarly exploration of the books on those shelves, with Hemingway’s signed marginalia, would enhance our understanding of the literary influences, rather than details of the author’s life, on Hemingway’s craft. A short anecdote will suggest the further implications of Brasch and Sigman’s Hemingway’s Library. Adeline Tintner, in a personal letter, enthusiastically praised the work of Brasch and Sigman in compiling Hemingway’s Library as “the greatest contribution to Hemingway studies that has ever been made . . . not only useful in itself but . . . [in] the cause of other uses.” Tintner states that her own work on “the impact of Henry James on Hemingway could never have been completed with any kind of authority if [she] had not had recourse to the Brasch-Sigman volume.” As well she could not have written of the link between Edith Wharton and Hemingway, and between D’Annunzio and Hemingway, “without the library volume.” But beyond her own academic use, Tintner explained, in private conversation with Brasch, that in the early 1980s she touted Hemingway’s Library to Leon Edel who immediately responded that he would undertake to compile the Library of Henry James. Tintner’s acknowledgements point to the rich material available for scholarly research in the libraries of all our writers. Writers are readers. Readers need to know what writers are reading and how they are reading them. To quote Tintner’s letter again, Brasch and Sigman’s Hemingway’s Library “has single-handedly changed the popular conception of Hemingway as purely an outdoor man without literary inclinations, to a ‘ferociously literary’ one, a phrase Henry James used about himself

. . . and Hemingway’s list [of books] is almost four times longer than James’s.” In her introduction to the Letters of Ernest Hemingway, Sandra Spanier suggests that “the letters represent the last great unexplored frontier of Hemingway studies.” Perhaps, but Hemingway’s library, especially the books currently at the Finca Vigia with his signed marginalia, remains the great undiscovered country for Hemingway studies. Too much time has elapsed since Brasch and Sigman’s exploration of the Finca. The library at the Finca Vigia is the key to the next level of understanding how his reading shaped the craft of his writing.
Works Cited

 

Brasch, James D. and Joseph Sigman. Hemingway’s Library: A Composite Record. Garland, 1981.

Reynolds, Michael S. Hemingway’s First War: The Making of “A Farewell to Arms.” Princeton, 1976.

__________. Hemingway’s Reading, 1910-1940: An Inventory. Princeton, 1980.

Spanier, Sandra and Trogdon, Robert. W., eds. The Letters of Ernest Hemingway, Volume 1, 1907-1922. Cambridge, 2011.

Tintner, Adeline R. Letter to Dr. Maureen Halsall, Acting Dean, Faculty of Humanities, McMaster University. November 13, 1986.

Villarreal, René and Raúl. Hemingway’s Cuban Son. Kent State University Press, 2009.

Watts, Emily S. Ernest Hemingway and the Arts. University of Illinois Press, 1971.

Wright, Robert. Three Nights in Havana: Pierre Trudeau, Fidel Castro and the Cold War. HarperCollins, 2007.